Parmjit Dhanda: Address to the Youth Summit
New Connaught Rooms, London
thMonday 25 June 2007
I‟m delighted to be here to address the Youth Summit. For me, this
event marks the end of my youth tour across the UK. After 5 days on
the road I‟m starting to know how Robbie Williams feels...well, maybe not. But from Hastings to Hollyoaks, I‟ve seen some remarkable work going on up and down the country.
I want to thank the NYA for hosting this event, for their work on the
dialogue events with young people around the country, and for the
invitation which allows me to share some of those thoughts with you
For those of us who have to wade back at the very least a decade to
recall our teenage years, it can be quite difficult to put ourselves in the
position of the MySpace or Facebook generation of today.
You only have to open a newspaper to see that adults have a skewed
view towards young people. According to research, 71% of press stories
about young people are negative; one in three articles about young
people are about crime; 90% of youth workers think the tabloids give a
negative or very negative impression of young people. This was
backed up by young people‟s perceptions of older people‟s perceptions of them, by the young people I spoke to on my youth tour.
If you search Google‟s „pages from the UK‟ for the word „disaffected‟,
5 out of the top 10 hits couple the word with youth. Louts, monsters,
brutes, scum – even inhuman. All words that have been used by the
press to describe British youngsters. If they are to be believed, the
better half of youth is drinking, shouting, and swearing in the streets (all
wearing hoodies of course), while the rest are getting pregnant at 13,
taking drugs, and trashing their neighbours‟ property.
When did we become so down on young people? Two thirds of 18-25
year olds elected to stay at home rather than vote in the last general
election. With such a bad press, it‟s no wonder they are so down on us.
Of course there is a minority who get involved in anti-social activity. But
the reality is very different: teenage pregnancies amongst under 18s,
for example, are at their lowest level in 20 years.
Amongst pupils who had truanted or been excluded from school the proportion who took drugs regularly dropped by almost half between the years 2003 and 2006.
Up and down the country I‟ve seen young people transform their street corners, setting up internet cafes, youth clubs, and music studios. Young people in Sunderland successfully bid for ?25,000 of Youth Opportunity and Capital Funds, which they used to set up the Streetz Café. Not only have they set up a music room, a dance group, and a football team, but they are also benefiting from advice on drugs and sexual health, writing a CV, and applying for housing.
And the Take One Studio in Nottingham isn‟t just a place for young people to meet up and experiment with music production. Through its partnership with the local college, they can also study for a BTEC in music – an accredited qualification and a route into a job.
I met many young people who had been switched off by classroom learning. That opportunity has captured their interest and enabled them to study in a more relaxed environment. It has given them a real chance to get on and succeed in life.
And one of the most positive things I discovered on my tour is that people involved in youth projects from a young age often go on to
become youth workers themselves later in life. Some go into further
education to study youth work, and many end up working for the same
projects they participated in while still at school age.
Many of the young people I met are not just working to brighten their
own futures. They are also tackling serious issues like climate change,
and making poverty history. They are passionate, articulate, and vocal.
They want to take action, are not afraid to challenge and be
challenged in discussing them. Incidentally, I was alarmed to read that
only 11% of stories about young people in the press actually quote
young people themselves. Certainly in the media, that strong voice is
Young people‟s passion and commitment to social issues is translated in the volunteering rates, where young people are the largest social
group to give up their own time.
And Government are backing young volunteers every step of the way.
With ?15 million of funding each year, the Millennium Volunteers project
reached over 265,000 young people through 140 projects across the
country. 17% of those volunteers were from black and minority ethnic
backgrounds. Millennium Volunteers are now continuing their good
work through the charity „v‟, which has a target of 1 million new
Where volunteering projects work really well, they often extend beyond
youngsters to reach families and even whole communities. Simi
Chowdry, who runs the Awaz Utaoh youth centre in Bristol, was telling
me about two children who found it very difficult to concentrate on
their lessons in school. This was not because they were badly behaved
or disruptive, it was because they were hungry. It turned out that their
mother, who was Punjabi, could speak no English and didn‟t
understand the value of British currency – was sending her children to school with only ?1 for their dinner money. So Simi taught the mother
enough English and showed her what currency could buy. This was a
woman who could not ask for help because she didn‟t know the language, but was able to get advice in an environment that was
friendly, familiar, and not intimidating.
This is where the third sector has a particularly important part to play.
Sometimes people find voluntary organisations more approachable,
particularly when many of them employ unpaid volunteers who are
there out of sheer devotion to a local cause. In a society where it can
be difficult to get something for nothing – and where you can be deemed to be either naïve or „pulling a fast one‟ if you try – that really
counts for something.
And it is not just advice or support. Society is seeing enormous returns through social enterprises like Café Direct, Fair Trade, and The Big Issue. On this tour I have seen youth projects becoming social enterprises - some without even realising it.
At Pennywell Youth Project in Sunderland for example, young people were using their skills and resources to run a bike shop. They are working really hard, and unfortunately the project isn‟t in profit yet, but I hope that it soon will be. And the Xtracts project in Hastings: workers were very qualified to write books on stress management! And that‟s just
what they did.
These projects are not only fun and imaginative, but they are also giving young people valuable skills which will stand them in good stead when they come to apply for a job.
I want to see more of this across the country. Today, I am delighted to be able to announce the Third Sector Strategy and Action Plan, which will help us to work more closely with voluntary sector organisations, and bring their time, expertise, and devotion to the cause to more people.
We have had much valuable input from our partners to get this action plan right. Tom – who is retiring soon from the NYA - has worked closely
with us. Although I have only known him for a short time, I, ministerial,
and departmental colleagues have greatly valued his advice and
support. He has been a truthful and constructive friend to government,
and I wish him well in all he goes on to do.
Firm partnerships between central government, local authorities, and
service providers are so important. It is only by forging that partnership
that we will be able to listen and respond effectively to what young
people say they want.
One young girl at the Patchway Youth Centre in Bristol articulated the
point really well. She said “it‟s all very well government saying they want to get young people more involved in positive activities and
make sure they have a say; but most of the time we get the feeling
that they‟re just nodding and agreeing but not actually doing anything
She‟s absolutely right. There‟s no point in saying we value their views if
we‟re not going to act on their views. We have to prove that we‟re serious and that those views are valued. It‟s what democracy is all about, and the younger that people learn that the more empowered I
hope they will feel.
That‟s why we have consulted young people over the Youth Strategy, which you will see over the coming weeks.
So, what have I learnt from the tour? Listen more; if it works, stick with it; help young people to improve their image; give more power to young people. They have the Youth Opportunity and Youth Capital Funds open to them, and it is for them to decide how they are to be spent. Young people are the best judges of what young people want. Let‟s encourage them.